Female Sports Reporters Still Have to Fight Prejudice on Beats

United Press International

Sportswriter Donna Balancia had two team officials block her from the New York Giants' locker room after a recent preseason game. Jenny Kellner has been propositioned by players who flaunted their naked bodies for her.

Dozens of other female sports reporters have been denied access to NFL locker rooms, even while their male counterparts were interviewing players and meeting tight deadlines.

As the pro football season begins, NFL officials are promising to crack down on teams that bar women from locker rooms but admit they are having difficulty enforcing league rules that mandate equal access.

Years after women first drew gasps by walking into the maze of nude bodies and sweaty jockstraps in locker rooms, female sportswriters still are fighting for the right to do their job--conducting postgame interviews of key players and coaches.

Many women sports reporters say it is frustrating to face the same problem year after year.

"I think it's so stupid I can't believe it," says Kathy Blumenstock of USA Today, who has a decade of experience covering pro football. "I hope that in my lifetime this is resolved, and the older I get the slimmer the chances seem to be getting."

"I can't get over the fact that it's 1985 and we're still talking about women in the locker room," says Christine Brennan, who this fall becomes the first woman ever to cover the Redskins' beat for the Washington Post.

The NFL's policy book was revised this spring to clearly state that "locker rooms should be open" and commissioner Pete Rozelle has warned teams could be fined if NFL rules are not followed.

But league spokesman Dick Maxwell says officials are having trouble with teams such as the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions, who keep their locker rooms closed and provide an outside interview room.

"The new policy states if you have an interview room that's fine but the locker rooms still should be open," Maxwell said.

For women sports reporters--who have the same deadlines and needs for timely quotes as their male competitors--a visit to the locker room of an NFL club still can lead to abuse and embarrassment.

Kellner was subjected to continual harassment from New York Jets lineman Mark Gastineau when she used to work for the New York Daily News.

"He asked me a few dozen times throughout the season what I thought about when I saw him parading around without his clothes on," says Kellner, who now works for the Miami News. "He was very proud of his body.

"So after putting it off for a couple of weeks, he came up to me and I said, 'What do you want me to say, Mark? Seeing you walk around naked isn't that big a deal."'

Helene Elliott, a sportswriter for Newsday for the past six years, says athletes tend to act like little boys when a woman enters the locker room.

"These are guys who get paid millions of dollars for their accurate throwing," she says. "When they take off their jockstraps and tape they can't hit a waste basket--they hit me instead."

Balancia, who works for the Stamford (Conn.) Advocate, was kept outside the Giants' locker room and told to wait for quotes to be brought to her, even though she was six minutes from deadline.

"I was insulted. It's a little disturbing to know that your competition could possibly be getting more quotes, better quotes because of a rule that shouldn't be in effect any more," she says.

Balancia says she fears if she complains about her treatment, the Giants will close the locker room to everyone.

"I really prefer not to make any waves," she says, "but it just doesn't seem fair. It's a humbling experience. For this still to be happening nowadays is ridiculous."

Mary Schroeder, a photographer for the Detroit Free Press, has no such qualms. She says her newspaper has drawn up legal papers and may file suit if the Lions do not open their locker room to all media representatives.

Not all female sports reporters want access to the locker room.

"I feel it is demeaning for me to walk into a locker room with 60 naked guys. I do my interviews in the hallway," says Hannah Storen, sports director at KSRR-FM in Houston.

"Sometimes I have to wait a little longer but I feel it has worked to my advantage. I feel the players respect me more and I have always gotten great interviews."

But other female sportswriters say they cannot do their job without access to the locker room.

"You want immediate reaction after (the game is) played. I don't want to get a kicker or a quarterback 20 minutes after everybody else has talked to him," Balancia says.

"I'm not in there to gawk or anything. I'm not going to see anything in a locker room that I haven't seen already and that's not the purpose of going into a locker room."

Elliott has a message for any coaches or team owners who hope to drive women away from locker rooms.

"We're here to stay and we're not going to go away," she says. "It's not a fad. It's a profession that women are going to get into."

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